Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Patrick Garry, author of Blind Spots
FQ: Blind Spots is quite a departure from your last novel, Finding Flipper Frank. Are you as comfortable writing a tangled web of a mystery as you are creating a light-hearted, fun travel adventure?
GARRY: I’ve found that the characters and plot really drive the writing. So once I have characters that become compelling to me, and who find themselves in challenging or unusual circumstances, my writing seems to flow out of those characters and plot situations. If I have a character with a sense of humor, surrounding by other quirky or eccentric characters, then I seem to be able to sustain a novel with a humorous voice. But if the characters and plot are more tense or dramatic, then the novel becomes one with an intricate plot of mystery and suspense.
FQ: Speaking of writing in different genres, you are a very versatile author, having written books (and articles) in topics as varied as law, religion & society, romance and crime mysteries. Does each genre offer the same challenges to you as a writer, or are they each distinctive in their challenges?
GARRY: Yes, the different genres pose distinctly different challenges. My nonfiction books on law and religion require detailed and often academic-type research. But once the research is done, and an outline put together, the writing can be fairly straightforward as it follows this outline. A much different approach occurs with my fiction writing, where the writing cannot be organized ahead of time in a comprehensive or detailed outline. With fiction, I’ve found, the writing needs to accommodate the changes and developments with the characters. To get characters that come alive, the writing needs to be alive, in the sense that it has to be dynamic and unscripted.
FQ: Did your law background help you in writing the sections of Blind Spots where you discuss city politics and the inner workings of the judicial system?
GARRY: I think it did. You know the old adage: you should write what you know. I’m very familiar with law, politics and the judicial system, so it feels comfortable writing about those subjects.
FQ: In the story, the gun, the twelve-year-old boy using that gun, the mystery of who gave the boy the gun – mesh into the current gun debate – a very hot topic these days. Since Blind Spots has just recently been published, I have to suspect that you were working on it while events such as those in Ferguson, MO, were unfolding. Did these events help shape the plot?
GARRY: In a number of my other novels, social or legal events did influence the plots. Such events can prompt me to think of storylines or connections I might not otherwise have considered. Sometimes those events exerted a narrow or confined influence; other times the events had a rather profound influence on the direction of the novel. With Blind Spots, the rash of multiple-victim shootings in America did contribute to the background plot setting. In the novel, however, the focus turns not to the motivations of the shooter, but to an investigation of who provided the gun to that shooter.
FQ: You used Camden, NJ as the backdrop for the initial murder that sets off the story. Why Camden rather than, say, New York City, or perhaps Los Angeles?
GARRY: I’ve actually been to Camden several times. I’ve been invited to speak at the law school there on numerous occasions. So I had a feel for the city, and I thought it would make an appropriate setting for the novel. And I like situating a novel in locations other than the often predictable New York or Los Angeles.
FQ: I found Milo Krantz to be a very interesting character – on the surface, a person who is reviled by his neighbors. But there is more there, and that’s what really grabbed me. Was he a fun character to create/write?
GARRY: I’m glad you found Milo interesting. In a way, I was somewhat surprised how he developed as the novel went along. In fact, I liked him so much I am using a Milo-like character in the novel I’m currently writing.
FQ: And speaking of characters, Judge Donna Davis...let me say that I cheered more for Milo than Donna. Typically the reader will root for the ‘good guy’ (the judge) but not so much in the case of Blind Spots. Was this intentional on your part?
GARRY: I strive for multi-dimensional characters -- characters who are real. Characters who have what we all have – both good and bad sides. You’re right, on the surface the judge comes across as the good character. And Milo, the arrested suspect and slumlord rent collector, appears as the bad or unappealing character. But over time, we see the depth of Milo’s human side, such as his concern for the young girl and her dog. The judge, on the other hand, has a hidden side that seems absorbed with ambition, insecurity and selfishness. From the outside, the judge is the hero and Milo is the villain. But looking at the characters from their inside, Milo possesses a dignity and humanity that the privileged and wealthy judge does not have. With Milo, his rough exterior just seems to make his inner character all the more touching.
FQ: In this day and age of quick ‘Law and Order’ one-hour court case dramas, where everybody wants the criminal brought to justice quickly, Blind Spots shows us just what can happen when the justice system pushes for a speedy resolution. Do you see this as an issue in today’s judicial system?
GARRY: Good point. I don’t think I can put it any better than you just did.
FQ: Finally, the title of the book, is it taken from ‘blind spots’ within the judicial system, ‘blind spots’ that we all have (as seen in the book through the eyes/actions of Detective Gunther Mulvaney) or perhaps from something else?
GARRY: That’s a keen insight. Yes, I think the novel very much is about all the blind spots that can fill our individual and social fields of vision. We all know that the justice system can have blind spots. But our moral sense can also have blinds spots. Families can have blind spots to the needs of each other. Our memories can have blind spots too. So, in a way, life is all about trying to see past all our blind spots.